Sage advice for Thanksgiving

There are certainly several flavors that are linked with the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. A few of the flavors are native to the United States, or at least the Americas, like cranberries and pumpkin (corn and beans, too).

But, most interestingly, the flavors most often associated with the holiday come from warm Mediterranean regions.

The main dish (usually turkey) and its accompanying stuffing (or dressing) often are flavored with a variety of herbs, the most common being sage, but the flavor combinations could include other herbs such as thyme, marjoram, parsley and rosemary. These herbs are part of the contribution of the early settlers to the feast and to the American palate.

These herbs provide a warm, woodsy flavor to dishes and an almost comforting kind of reaction among many people.

For me, it isn’t Thanksgiving without the smell of sage permeating the house from my mother’s dressing, made the way my grandmother made it so many years ago with cornbread and the chopped up contents of that white baggie of goodies that came inside the turkey, all infused with hearty portions of sage and poultry seasoning (sage, marjoram, rosemary and thyme).

While sage is most commonly consumed only at this time of year, it actually makes a great flavoring for any season.

When you grow your own herbs, such as sage, you have the option of using them fresh or dried (you can also find them fresh at the grocery store now). The thing to remember is that the dried version has much more concentrated flavor than the fresh, since all of the water has been removed from it.

Aside from its culinary uses, sage has been prized by many cultures throughout the centuries for both its edible and medicinal properties. From Greek and Roman scholars who wrote adoringly about sage, to folks in the Middle Ages who thought it was a preventative for the plague, sage has had many admirers throughout time.

The plant’s Latin name, Salvia officinalis, indicates that it was considered highly medicinal, with the inclusion of the “officinalis” in the name.

Whether for food or for medicine, sage and the other woodsy herbs that make up the Thanksgiving flavors are fairly easy to grow in the garden. You won’t find any of them at the garden center this time of year, so be sure to plan ahead next year. These herbs grow very easily in both the garden and in containers.

If you want one of these tasty herbs right now and you just can’t wait, you can usually find rosemary plants trimmed to look like miniature Christmas trees at many stores. You can grow it indoors, just like any houseplant.

The thing to remember with these herbs is that they don’t like to be wet for long periods of time. They come from areas of the Mediterranean that are usually very warm and very dry. So growing them in containers actually can help with this — they tend to dry out quicker than in garden soil. Growing them in containers also makes it easy to move them indoors for winter.

Whether you are growing your sage in a pot next year or trying out one of those rosemary Christmas trees, you’ll want to make sure they don’t sit in water. This means removing any covering from the rosemary pot (they sometimes come wrapped in foil).

You can water thoroughly, but make sure the plant isn’t sitting in water, and let the soil dry between watering. Aside from that, keep the plant in a sunny location that doesn’t get cold, and you can have fresh, tasty herbs through most of the year — even winter.

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